The Tool Box: Equipping the mobile maintenance vehicle

It used to be common for a doctor to pay a house call on a sick person. Now when we’re ailing, we drag ourselves to a doctor’s office for treatment-a doctor rarely will trek to our homes to treat us.

But in trucking, the trend is reversed. Increased competition in the maintenance and repair business has pushed a lot of service work outside the garage and onto the roads. The results are strong; mobile maintenance and repair operations are pulling in big business.

Mobile maintenance breaks down into two different predominant categories: Emergency roadside repair and preventive maintenance (PM).

Dave Albert, manager, customer satisfaction marketing, Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks Inc., explained, “There are differences between mobile maintenance and emergency breakdown or mobile repair. There are two separate markets and you have to decide which you’re going to enter into before you start equipping your truck.”

Mobile Fleet Services, Yakima, WA, is a good example of a company with an organized mobile repair system.

Ric Knight, service manager, said, “We have four mobile maintenance or repair vehicles here. We have two trucks equipped to make roadside repairs. We have another truck that is set up to do Thermo King repairs, since we’re also a Thermo King dealer. We have a fourth truck that is solely a lube truck that goes to customers’ sites and is equipped only to change oil and perform PM services.”

Onboard the two roadside repair trucks are generators and jumpstart systems. The trucks are equipped with lift gates that allow technicians to load their toolboxes into the trucks so that the truck isn’t constantly stocked with tools.

Mobile Fleet Services also keeps numerous truck parts and common fittings onboard its roadside repair vehicles at all times. “We stock all the things that you might use to get a truck moving, or at least to decide if it needs to be towed or not,” according to Knight.

The company stocks its lube truck with “tanks of every kind of oil, grease and coolant imaginable and a suction system by which we can drain it right into the truck,” Knight explained.

“The back of the truck has custom-built tanks to hold both the new oil and the waste oil. We have absorbent floor-drying material to put down in case of a spill and we also keep an absorbent rope onboard that dams spilled liquid and prevents it from spreading.”

In addition to stocking a mobile repair vehicle with the right tools and cleanup materials, you have to equip the vehicle with the right personnel.

“You can’t have a high-dollar engine diagnostic technician doing oil changes. You’re not going to make money,” Albert said. Often shops have technicians take turns staffing the on-road vehicles, especially during off hours. But if you choose to specialize in one particular type of maintenance, it might pay to have a dedicated operator. Such is the case at Mobile Fleet Services.

“On the PM/oil change truck, we have one specific guy and that’s all he does. He handles that truck from start to finish,” Knight explained. “On our mobile repair vehicles, it’s basically up to the service managers as to who they want out there on the road.”

Another important factor to consider when equipping a truck for mobile maintenance is what kind of a processing system you will employ. Some operations such as Mobile Fleet Services have been very successful with cell phones and handwritten repair orders. “The technician running the truck will have a repair order copy and he’ll make notes. Then, when he gets back we’ll enter it into our computer system.

“Frequently, though, we’ll take one or two laptops out with us so we can access the truck to obtain information and make a diagnosis,” said Knight.

But for some other mobile operations, bringing the latest technology on the road has been a good move.

“Some operations use wireless laptops and technicians can dial right into the dealer management system to bring up a customer’s record, open a repair order and complete invoicing on the road,” said Albert. “It’s just as if the customer were on site in the bay.”

“Trucks have become computers with tires on them,” Knight said. “It used to be that a guy would grab a screwdriver and a grease rag and head out to listen to a man’s truck. Now he takes two laptops and a satellite dish.”

How you equip your mobile repair operation depends largely on how you define your business. Whether you choose to pursue emergency repairs or PM visits, a high-tech wireless system or pen and paper for processing orders, if you think of your repair vehicle as an extension of the service bay and anticipate potential customer needs, then bringing the doctor to the patient, so to speak, can help your business flourish.

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